Q&A: Why It’s Time to Build a CS Ops Role in Your Organization
Much like the evolution within the Sales team and the creation of “Sales Ops”, Customer Success is on a similar trajectory. It is becoming vitally important to drive successful outcomes for your customers (i.e. Customer Success) and it is even more critical to build out “Customer Success Operations”.
To talk about this newer role and shed some light on the evolution of Customer Success Operations and how it can impact SaaS businesses, we hosted a well-attended webinar earlier this week with Jason Conrad from the Customer Imperative. During this session we hit on several key topics including:
- How to define the ‘CS Ops’ role
- What’s it like to drive transformative change to internal processes
- What types of metrics should this role be responsible for
- How can systems and tools empower your customer teams
No worries if you missed the live webcast (or even if you want to view it again), you can do so on-demand here.
During the webcast we conducted three audience polls to get a gauge on where attendees were in terms of their Customer Success operations today. Where do you fall? Do you relate to others in these regards?
We also engaged in a great Q&A session with the presenter, that we wanted to share with you here.
Speaker: Jason Conrad, Associate Partner, Customer Imperative
Q: In this presentation the mature Customer Success org had of Customer Success Ops role. There was also mentioned of combining Revenue, Marketing, Sales, Customer Success ops to one team. Where should the operations role sit in this combined world?
A: That’s a great question. And for anyone who might need a refresher on that topic. We discussed about how some companies have Sales Ops, Marketing Ops and maybe they have a Revenue Officer and Customer Success Ops, and I really believe that it should be one function if you want to move faster.
So, the question is where does that live if it’s one function and it really depends on how your executive team is structured. You want it to be owned by whoever owns revenue is the shortest answer. I think that the person that owns the revenue number at the executive team level is the one that’s going to be able to get things done the quickest. We do have some very strategic and incredible Chief Customer Officers out there who might be paired along side with the Chief Revenue Officer. However, I still believe that the Chief Revenue Officer should own what is needed to drive that revenue.
The ops team is equally important and having them together can really create a ton of efficiency and just lets you move faster.
Q: If there is no headcount for a new CS ops person, what’s the best way to incorporate the function until you can get budget?
A: That’s another great question. So, I think there’s the question there and then there’s an inherent question, kind of a hidden question, which is- if we don’t have budget, what do we do? The first thing I would say is, we presented a lot of different idea today and why? I think that the reason that this team is invested in early is because you’re generally investing in the must-haves, you have to have Customer Success Managers. You have to have Implementation Consultants. So often times, it is something that has an investment in later stages.
Then what I’ve seen companies do is really look at their customer strategy first. Developing a customer strategy ideally is something that you should be able to get executive level buy in on and if you work to develop a customer strategy cross-functionally with your CEO or Chief Product Officer or your CMO or your head of Sales, you should be able to look at what are the most important initiatives that you need to put in place to get the work done.
And then I think it’ll be apparent that there might not be anybody there to help with those strategic initiatives. So, building a business case is really the important part first.
If you don’t have anyone in place, you can still get work done through this concept with the customer strategy team and the customer initiative team. It is a drain and you do have to acknowledge that ultimately a VP of Customer Success does not own process automation and a CSM does not own data and systems, but you can still get work done. You can have a customer strategy tam that’s comprised of leaders and then create an initiative SWAT team. I have seen CSMs, Implementation Consultants, Product Manager, roll up their sleeves and dive in on projects. The important part there is make sure that you’re choosing low effort, high-impact initiatives to do. Don’t try to bite off things that are high effort, high impact, because you just won’t be able to get them done. So, it’s all about prioritization and picking things that you think you can actually get done on a quarterly basis. So, time box it. Say- in the next 90 days we’re going to implement an NPS process. Involve product, involve a representative CSM, involve marketing, create a SWAT team and get it done. But don’t do anything else other than servicing your customers and selling.
Q: I know you mentioned tying Customer Success Operations goals to revenue goals. What other goals or metrics do you recommend for CS Ops?
A: So, what I had said was, you should look at gross retention and net retention. I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t tie them to. You don’t want to tie them to metrics that sometimes are impacted by a really wide variety of uncontrollable environments and scenarios such as NPS. I would not tie anybody’s pay to NPS. There’s so much that goes into that. There’s who’s your audience? Who are the customers? What was the sales process? What was the implementation like? What’s the product experience like? Don’t do that. You can look at tying them to some component of revenue as well as some component of personal performance measures.
A lot of HR teams will really like to see that you are tying them to exhibiting progress against company goals. You can tie them to a performance rating if you want. I’m not saying that they should be 100% tied to revenue on their incentive. Some companies we work with do say your base is your base and your bonus is tied to gross or net revenue retention. I think that most tend to have a split of maybe hey do it half on revenue and had on a more subjective performance rating.
Q: How do you delineate the strategic responsibilities between a Director of Customer Success and a Director of Success Ops?
A: This is a great question. I believe a Director of Customer Success is the leadership team member that ultimately owns the revenue number, or they own paving the way for the revenue number and I’m not talking about bookings. I’m talking about ongoing revenue renewals. The Director of Customer Success or the VP of Customer Success is also meant to be a leader from a team perspective. So, they are meant to create the culture the environment, create the talent development process that really allows you to have world-class Customer Success Managers. They’re also responsible for managing day-to-day operations. So, that means they’re responsible for jumping in and helping the team when there’s an escalation. They’re responsible for being that executive point of contact for key Accounts.
Customer Success Operations is execution. Customer Success Ops is strategic initiatives related to people, data, process, and systems. The work of a VP of Customer Success is more durable. It’s something that in general doesn’t change year to year. Maybe the projects you’re working on do but the motions and the responsibilities don’t. Customer Success Ops is agile execution of initiatives that need to push your customer experience forward.
Q: Would CS Ops roles typically have any customer contact, or would it purely be internal execution?
A: You don’t want to have your Customer Success Ops being client-facing and the reason I say that is because you have your Customer Success Manger for that. You really want your CS Ops individual to be focused on initiatives focused on building process, adding technology, and automating.
I have seen Directors of CS Ops participate in different customer interactions that help them get more empathy for the customer experience. So, if you’re a company that is good at doing product discovery or customer discovery, maybe you’re interviewing customers consistently on how they use the product or what their challenges are in being successful int their roles or maybe talking to them about their experience with your company. You can involve then, and I do recommend that, just have them be a silent participant.
The company I mentioned earlier that has a really amazing Director of Customer Success Operation, he sits in on a lot of NPS follow-up calls. Just as a reminder if you’re getting NPS comments, you should be following up on each and every one of them. Especially the ones that say I’m unhappy with XYZ. You want to call those people and talk to them and that’s a great opportunity for your Ops tam to sit in and listen so they can start to think about solutions for some of the problems your customers are having.
Q: What other roles have you seen the CS Ops role have under them? Do they have any direct reports?
A: Yea, so the company I worked at, Snag, was a good example of this. So, we had a Chief Revenue Officer who owned new logo bookings as well as revenue. So, he owned all of our Customer Success Managers. We had a pretty strong operations function. It started with Sales Ops and Revenue Ops including a component of CS Ops. We had a Director of Revenue Operations and he had three analysts one was focused on sales. So they were doing things like, if we acquired a list of prospective accounts, or if we had to change territory alignment that person was looking at CRM data around that. We had a Revenue Ops analyst who was working on the metrics that we needed around understanding our customer segments. They worked on LTV to CAC by product, LTV to CAC by customer segments, by size. And then we had a Customer Success Operations Analyst that really owned the systems that drove our proactive Customer Success.
For example, if you got a ChurnZero type platform in place that’s helping you with customer health scoring or automated customer engagements, that person focused there. We were a bigger company and if you think about that continuum, I showed we were towards the right of that where we had the need to have three different analysts that focused on different parts of customer operations, and we eventually folded Marketing Ops into that as well.
So, in general I would try to think about the size of your company and then what the needs of your organization are in terms of efficiency.
Q: Do you think that CSM onboarding would fall under CS Ops at all, or would that be up to another manager?
A: I think that CS Ops has a responsibility in CSM onboarding so they should be developing with the head of Customer Success the CSM onboarding plan. They should be tracking that onboarding is being done efficiently and that we’re taking care of our new team members. If you look at a Sales Ops team, a lot of times that falls into the sales enablement bucket. So, I’ve got one of my best friends is a Director of Sales Enablement and a big part of his role is ensuring that after a new hire and Sales goes through the HR training of things like how do you use your email, what are the company policies then they’re going through- how do I be successful as a Sales rep, how do I use outreach tools, how do I use Salesforce, what’s my territory. I think that the same responsibilities sit on the CS Ops Manager/Director.
Q: Have you seen CS Ops roles skew to more low-touch companies or high-touch at all? Or can it be in both?
A: I can speak to this at the benefit in a previous job of working for a company that had a very low ACV, high transactional customer segments. We were ideally closing two to three hundred deals a month in that segment. But we also went the whole way up to mega Enterprise world where we had six to twelve-month deal cycles, and we had account teams of three to four chasing after really big whale multi-million-dollar accounts. So, we needed Customer Success Ops in both segments.
We think about a Marketing Ops Team if you have a SMB kind of go-to-market business, they are focusing on lead generation and scales. They’re doing a lot of marketing automation. They’re doing a lot of campaign that are generating top of the funnel activity versus a Marketing Ops function that’s working for a very Enterprise business is doing a lot more Account Based Marketing. So, they’re thinking about what the accounts are and who are the people that we need to engage at those accounts and how do we become very targeted. The same applies to CS Ops. It is 100% necessary on both sides.
There are so many companies I work with that just have no customer engagement. We worked with a company recently that had about twelve thousand customers and I think two Customer Success Managers. So how in the heck are you supposed to have any touch point with those customers? It’s not even possible to do a yearly touch point at that level. So, investing in automation for customers is very important, but it’s also very important if you have a very large customer to make sure that you’re doing more account based customer engagement because that’s where you get into more complex stakeholder relationships. You might have hidden decision makers that you don’t know about that you need help developing plans to get to and the answer is yes, it’s needed at both ends of the spectrum and I’ve seen it applies equally in all segments.
Q: I am my company’s first CS Ops hire and preciously works as a CSM. What processes should I prioritize first and any other recommendations you would share?
A: Yea, great question and welcome to the team and congratulations! I’ll say first follow me on LinkedIn. I’m going to post these slides on my LinkedIn account. So, there’s a lot of good information in there. There’s a process slide in there that you can use as your prioritization checklist. The number one thing you need to do is make sure that you have proactive renewal process.
So, start with the basics, what is your role. Your role is to enable Customer Success efficiency, If you’re the first Customer Success Ops higher, the first thing I would do is look at how proactive your team is being with renewals and that doesn’t mean that they’re picking up the phone and saying hi, are you going to renew this year. Obviously, we don’t do that all the time. But do you have some sort of a plan to measure account health? Do you have a plan to engage with the customer six months out from renewal, 90 days till renewal? Do you even have the renewal date in Salesforce? I would start with the renewal process and go from there and move on to the customer experience.
Q: How much data should a CSM be held accountable for? Are we suggesting having the CS Ops role handle all of the data needs for the team?
A: The CS Ops team should be building the structure and the process to help automate. They should be helping the CSMs life be easier. The CSM needs to be responsible for updating their account list. So, as a CSM, you need to be able to update account health scores, you need to be able to document your interactions. If CS Ops can help you be more efficient with that like for example, if you use some sort of tool to automate your outreach to your customers, I can see CS Ops help integrate that back to your CRM, so you’ve got a history or an audit trail when the last time you touched them. That’s a good example of how they work together.
But ultimately, you’ve got to work together the CS Ops team needs to be focusing on saving the CSM time. But the CSM needs to be collecting, gathering and entering data into the CRM or CS platform that you can actually put that process to good use.
Q: Before we close out, any last tips for trying to advocate for a Customer Success Operations role that you would like to highlight?
A: I think I what I would highlight is I know that this role is newer. Thin about starting small if you’re a smaller business and you don’t have this operations role at all. Think about what are the biggest needs that you have? What are the lowest effort highest impact things that you could put in place and think about carving out one person for the team? I would also think about what kind of technology you can use to automate this as well. But I would recommend you don’t try to go down the path of implementing technology unless you know you’ve got investment on the resources side to handle if your VP of Customer Success is not the best person to be administering systems.
So just think about the investment versus the ROI and don’t forget- 1% increase in retention can have a 12% increase in company valuation over a couple year. So, the investment I guarantee will pay off.
To hear more on how you should think about implementing this Customer Success Operations role at your organization, take a listen to the webcast on-demand.
Customer Success Around the Web
- How to Loose a Customer in 10 Days: Rethinking Customer Engagement – A creative comparison to common reasons customer churn and the romantic-comedy, How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days.
- Understanding and Calculating Customer Retention Rate – Look at why retention rates should be top of mind for your SaaS business and why you should be calculating retention often.
- Understanding the Customer Success Manager Role – When evaluating the work of a CSM it’s helpful to evaluate the role through the lens of the Customer, Success, and Management dimensions.